About Betsy—My Journey to Becoming a Boudoir Photography Artist

My Journey to Becoming a Boudoir Photography Artist

My Journey to Becoming a Boudoir Photography Artist

As a Kalamazoo Boudoir photographer, I have the incredible honor of diving deep into my clients’ self-love and discovery journey, sharing in the celebration of all you are, inside and out.

We embrace the strength of vulnerability here. The GRIT&GRACE experience strips away (literally and figuratively) the outside pressures of society and the roles you play for others in your life so that we can dig in and focus on the multi-faceted human being you are and help you SHINE!!

In the spirit of vulnerability, I thought I’d share my artist’s hero journey as well as my self-love growth through my own boudoir photo sessions. I’m even going to share some of highlights from each shoot so that you can see how I have evolved with my relationship with my body and sensuality through these continuing experiences. I make a point of investing in myself often so that I keep in touch with making that commitment to myself again and again—just like you do when you come here! 

I began my photography business in 2005 after being inspired by my wedding photographer. I was such a fan girl that he invited me to shoot a wedding. I was instantly HOOKED. It all started with my fascination with people, their stories, and connections. It took time and experience to discover my voice, but I finally found my way to photojournalism, focusing on storytelling through unscripted moments. It’s what got me EXCITED! I loved helping people see themselves and their shared moments from an outside point of view. I shot over 250 weddings with my late husband. When he unexpectedly passed away in 2016, I lost my life partner and my business partner. The pillars of our business crumbled around me. I loved photography and knew it was my purpose, but I had to find a new way to do it—away from living in the shadows of the past. After working through the weddings we were committed to, I knew I had to find a new way of life and a change of scenery. If I didn’t do that, I felt like I was on the edge of a total breakdown. Just shy of a year after Jeff’s passing, I packed up a suitcase and my camera to travel solo on a personal and professional sabbatical. I traveled abroad throughout Europe, the Eastern Block, Morroco, the UK, and Ireland in search of myself in a quest to find my own individual voice in my art and photography. 

Friends told me that clarity would come through personal photo projects, but if I’m being honest, I really had NO IDEA WHAT I WAS GOING TO SHOOT. But, I trusted that if I started shooting for myself and no one else, my voice would eventually emerge and I’d unearth the new Version 2.0 of Betsy.

That’s me with my camera in Paris, one of the many places I lived abroad for a year. I have an insane love for Paris! I spent a total of 2 months there in 2017-2018. Photo by She Wanders.

Fun fact: I was lovingly adopted at birth and learned in my 30s (after being a photographer for a few years) that my great grandfathers on both sides were photographers. Genetics are interesting, right? My paternal great grandfather was a street photographer in Paris. The first time I went to Paris (20 years before knowing this), I was inconsolable as I was leaving and said to my BFF, “I feel like someone’s ripping my heart out. I have unfinished business here.” A weird thing for a 22 year-old to say. Hahaha. I decided to explore that path more as I traveled, drawing on my experience in wedding photojournalism and my natural curiosity about people. Guess what? Street photography came naturally to me! It tapped into a patience I didn’t know I had. I had an innate sense that would make me wait on a corner for 15-20 minutes because I KNEW something was about to unfold in that scene because I could just feel it in my bones. It taught me to be in the present and breathe into a moment until that moment became the next moment. There was no past. There was no future. Just the present. This changed my perspective on everything. I was forced to slow down, breathe, and wait without expectations. 

Afternoon Nap, Paris, 2018
I’d wander the streets of Paris for 12–14 hours a day, discovering and capturing everyday life of Parisians. 
Signature shot from that first session that ignited my signature GRIT&GRACE boudoir journey.

The Next Chapter of Life

Upon my return to the States, I sold my house, fell madly in love with my now-husband, Todd, and dove into reinventing my business. Additionally, I was dealing with coming back to my old stomping grounds with triggers right and left while processing re-entry into American culture after submersing myself in dozens of international experiences on my own. I dove into a mastermind to retool everything as I released the past. I retired my old studio name of La Vida Creations (which was a very emotional separation for me!) and slapped my name boldly on the studio, claiming it as my own. This is what I needed to do to move forward. All of this was very uncomfortable. I was in a mastermind, therapy, and also working with a mindset coach as I waded my way through these murky and challenging waters.

I knew I wanted to bring some of the life lessons I’d learned during these periods of growth into the next version of my business. I channeled these experiences of self-discovery into client journeys that ran deep and encouraged personal growth, discovery, and appreciation of self. I dug in deep and worked nonstop for several months to redefine my business as a solo artist, Betsy McCue Pictures. I focused on Life Documentary sessions and Personal Branding. A few months later, a woman stumbled upon my old wedding work and insisted I was her person for Boudoir, and specifically, the type of boudoir photos she wanted. What?! I didn’t really have a boudoir portfolio at the time and I was terrified but said yes. It isn’t the first time that I’ve had clients see something I couldn’t see myself so I trusted the process. We had an amazing collaboration and her transformation during this challenging part of her life resonated with me. I fell IN LOVE with the work instantly! I knew I was on to something here. It felt like everything else had been preparing me for this. What a gift! Especially after giving up something that I was so good at and known for in the wedding industry. I’m so incredibly thankful for this client seeing more of me than I knew was there. She gave me permission to express my creative voice without boundaries. 

I discovered how much this work lit my soul ON FIRE. We’re always searching for that thing that makes us want to jump out of bed in the morning and just do it again and again. This was it!! 

Just as I was getting things rolling in San Diego with my new boudoir business, I got engaged and we decided to start a new chapter of life in western Michigan, where my husband is from. Sure, why not start my business again for the third time??! Hahahhaa. Guess you could say I’m always up for a challenge and I’m a lot more resilient than I ever imagined. We found our perfect-for-us home, a gorgeous Victorian in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in January of 2020, right before life as we all knew it came to a standstill. We drove across country in May 2020 with our beloved Airstream in tow. The timing, OY! I began working again when it was possible and outfitted a few rooms in our home for my studio space which has been such an incredible opportunity and so different than anything I’ve done before. 

I hit a plateau with the standard boudoir shooting method and was frustrated because I knew there could be SO much more to this than I was doing. I craved that storytelling and rawness I found and love in photojournalism. The unscripted. The unexpected. The in-between moments that helped my clients see those glimpses of self that really change the way people see themselves. 

Getting Stripped Down to Grow in my Art

A photographer friend of me shared a special kind of photo coaching with me that piqued my interest. The Art of Emotion. I was intrigued. I showed up for a live on Facebook with Denise Birdsong and was bawling my eyes out in the first five minutes. I knew this is what I was missing in this intimate work. It gave it meaning. It gave a unique voice to each client. It gave it LIFE

I hit the buy button before the call was even over. I anxiously awaited class to start. We ended up in hard-core lockdown again and so I treated this class like it was my full-time job—and then some—for 12 weeks. I dove into mindset work to open up my brain to new ways of thinking, working incredibly hard to kick imposter syndrome and fear of failure to the curb. This work ended up being SO hard for me in that moment that I was in therapy twice a week concurrently to blast through the walls that were holding me back in my creativity and art. I did all of our homework for class three times over during those twelve weeks. I was committed. I saw my work and myself start to transform and change. I was reprogramming my brain and my way of shooting. I had the opportunity to go to the in-person workshop during a lull of the pandemic and it was filled with a lot more tear-filled growth, but DAMN, it was everything I needed to really implement this unique methodology. 

So, what IS the Art of Emotion? It’s also known as Stripped Down, and as you can see from my description above, it really does strip us down to be vulnerable and real with ourselves. This brilliant methodology works in the neuropathways of the mind to combine body language, breathwork, and facial expressions in the most impactful and powerful ways. My photos now look so real and authentic because my clients are genuinely experiencing joy, coyness, confidence, pleasure, desire, and longing. It’s been SO amazing to show my clients all these incredible things they are and bring them to the exterior for them to see and reconnect with! And it has resolved a gigantic personal value issue I had with traditional boudoir which was that it felt like it was objectifying or serving up women for the male gaze. It wasn’t feeling truly empowering for me before I discovered this coaching method and immersed myself in it completely. This truly is SO much more than pretty pictures!!  

During that first class of Stripped Down, I had to do a lot of personal work so that I was in a good mental and spiritual (in a non-religous way) place to provide a SAFE place for my clients to explore their full self-expression. It forced me to dig in and dissolve the lifelong shame and timidness I had carried about sex, sensuality, desire, and pleasure, thanks to so many scripts provided by organized religion and American society. I couldn’t carry MY baggage into a session and ask my clients to dive into these intimate areas. I had to be there 100% for the TRUST FALL. I’m so thankful that I was able to dive deep into this with my therapist during that time so that it wouldn’t hold me back anymore, professionally and personally.  

My mentor, Denise Birdsong, has encouraged me to take risks and tap into my artistic expression, not being afraid to share all the wild, weird, and unique visions that exist in my brain. I am willing to color outside the lines and create things I could have never imagined! I like to affectionately call it the Island of Misfits and Artists. 🙂 Everything I’ve learned from her has transformed my client experience and ability to meet clients where they’re at, providing the safest and most supportive environment possible while expanding their ability to see themselves in so many meaningful ways! 

Needless to say, Denise and Stripped Down completely changed my life. I am a totally different and more open version of myself after this education. I am changing my clients’ lives and the way they see their entire being. It has brought some much love, light, and meaning to my art. My life as an artist has absolutely transformed too! I’m so grateful for the clients who come to me, ready to get vulnerable and see themselves. I love every day I get to do this. It’s amazing and brings me so much joy to witness my clients grow and love themselves!! 

I’ve now been in class 6 times and been at just as many in-person workshops. I was annointed Master Student in 2023 and have gone on to help mentor other photographers at the workshops, providing critique, support, and guidance as they learn to implement the methodology. I’ve also won award recognition for my work several times in that space, which is such an honor among my peers! 

How does this help you with boudoir poses and how to feel sexy in photos?

Not sure you’ll know what to do? Not to worry!! I’ve got you, Boo! I’ve done all the breathing, sounds, and movement in front of groups of 20+ photographers in-person as well as countless times on zoom classes in front of 100+ people. I practice all the cues, coaching, and posing myself on days that I’m not shooting. I am so incredibly comfortable in this space that I have no hesitations to connect to those intimate places myself as I show you what to do. You don’t have to know how to do a thing!! I’ll be there to show you what to do and support you in each movement as we collaborate creatively to create stunnig, meaningful art of YOU! 

After my journey as a phoenix rising from the ashes, I know what it is like to rebuild my identity as an individual, a woman, and a sensual being while discovering how to be confident and comfortable in my own skin. Part of this continuing journey has included boudoir photo sessions for myself as well! I know from first-hand experience how life-changing and confidence-building boudoir can be because I’ve gone through that transformation myself. I think it’s been invaluable to see myself through someone else’s lens. It’s changed my attitude about a lot of things…including my booty!! But I think it’s so cool to see the marked difference in self-confidence between my various shoots. Thank you, boudoir!! 🙂 

Photo credit: Melissa McClure, Kelly Segre of Gré Photography, Denise Wiles, and my mentor, Denise Birdsong




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